Gold: Pac-12 takeaways from the 1st round of the NFL Draft
With the 1st round of the 2023 NFL Draft in the books, Pac-12 backers must be shaking their heads at the confluence of events that saw the SEC and Big Ten triple the number of Pac-12 picks, and the Big-12 double them — occasionally using West Coast kids to pad the numbers.
The saving grace is that the league’s falling stars found themselves in favorable first-year situations, avoiding the muck of the top 15 and instead heading to some of pro football’s top teams from a year ago.
Even though the ensuing rounds offer more hope for the league, you could be forgiven for thinking ahead to next year’s Caleb Williams- and Michael Penix-led class.
For now, here are my takeaways from the 1st round of the NFL Draft, which started Thursday in Kansas City.
Despite good season, Pac-12 disappoints in Draft yet again
As expected, the SEC and Big Ten dominated the 1st round, with 9 picks each, including the 1st 6 selections (1, 3, 4 for the SEC; 2, 5, 6 for the Big Ten).
Less predictable: The Big-12 and ACC also putting the Pac-12 to shame.
Six different Big 12 teams had a 1st-round pick, with Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson and Texas running back Bijan Robinson going 7th and 8th, respectively, to the Las Vegas Raiders and Atlanta Falcons. Last year, the conference did not have a single 1st-rounder.
Like the Pac-12, the ACC had to wait a while as Pitt’s Calijah Kancey was the 1st conference player off the board at pick No. 19 to Tampa Bay. But the league had a nice run in the 20s, with Boston College wideout Zay Flowers joining Lamar Jackson in Baltimore with pick 22 and Clemson alums going back-to-back with picks No. 28 and 29 as Cincinnati tagged defensive end Myles Murphy and New Orleans snagged defensive tackle Bryan Bresee a pick later.
And then there was the Pac-12 with 3 1st rounders: Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez (17, New England); USC’s Jordan Addison (23, Minnesota); and Utah’s Dalton Kincaid (25, Buffalo).
The Pac-12 had 4 1st-rounders last year, including 2 in the top 10 (Kayvon Thibodeaux, Drake London; 3 in 2021 but 2 in the top 14 (Penei Sewell, Alijah Vera-Tucker), 3 in 2020 and 3 in 2019.
It wasn’t too long ago the league landed 6 in the 1st (2017) or even 9 itself (2015).
Those feel like ancient times now.
After slide, Christian Gonzalez lands in a good place
Score another one for Bill Belichick.
The long-time New England Patriots head coach has to be happy after landing a top-10 talent all the way at pick No. 17 — and adding an extra 4th-round pick in the process.
After a terrific lone season in Eugene following 2 seasons with the Colorado Buffaloes, Gonzalez was projected to go as high as 6th to the Detroit Lions. Those hopes were dashed when the Lions dealt the pick to Arizona, which selected offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. out of Ohio State.
Then came the Las Vegas Raiders, who had a need at corner, but went with Wilson. The DB-needy Falcons went against script and picked Robinson, sending Gonzalez into a freefall.
The elevator landed at No. 17 with the Patriots, who had traded down with Pittsburgh from the No. 14 pick, adding pick No. 120. Classic Patriots.
“Great cornerbacks come out of that system,” Gonzalez said in a post-draft Zoom with Pats media. “I’ve definitely watched Stephon Gilmore, a great player. I want to follow in the footsteps of him.”
Christian Gonzalez was our No. 2 corner on our Prototypical Patriots list. Never thought he'd be available at No. 14, never mind No. 17. Too athletic. Too important a position. Dream scenario for Bill Belichick. Blue-chip talent.https://t.co/PhI6PqQMSQ
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) April 28, 2023
… And so does Jordan Addison
What’s better than landing on the other side of the field as one of the top young wide receivers of the game within a pass-happy offense?
USC wideout Jordan Addison probably doesn’t love that he was the final of a run of 4 wideouts drafted from picks 20-23, but he has to love his situation, as he joins Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins in Minnesota.
He’ll help fill a void left by the departed Adam Theilen, and he figures to make a Devonta Smith-like impact with the Vikings. Smith teamed up with Philadelphia teammate AJ Brown to form one of the most potent pass-catching tandems in the NFL, and Addison should be able to contribute in a hurry.
Including the 3 wideouts who beat him to the punch — Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (20, Seattle); TCU’s Quentin Johnston (21, Los Angeles Chargers); and Boston College’s Zay Flowers (22, Baltimore) — Addison is arguably in the position of the quartet.
Second-year head coach Kevin O’Connell has to be pleased to add another weapon to the arsenal.
What do you know, Dalton Kincaid does, too
Utah’s towering tight end Dalton Kincaid found himself in a good spot, as well, as he will form an impressive 2 tight-end set with Dawson Knox, giving Josh Allen another red zone target for the promising Buffalo Bills.
The Bills weren’t thought to be a particularly likely landing spot for Kincaid, who beat Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer in the race for first tight end drafted.
The Cowboys were thought to be in the market for either, so it says something that the Bills traded up to get Kincaid.
Buffalo is in the prime of their Super Bowl window, and adding a piece like Kincaid — while in some ways a luxury — might just be the difference-maker come January.
The epitome of a steal in the draft. A beast on the field, and a leader, great teammate and an all-around exceptional person off of it. Dalton, the minute you got to Utah we knew you’d be something special. Now, here you are, a first round pick. Congratulations!! https://t.co/w8LLcWuTkp
— Kyle Whittingham (@UtahCoachWhitt) April 28, 2023
Drawing the line
In the past 2 NFL Drafts, the Pac-12 has had 1 offensive lineman and 1 defensive lineman drafted, with Oregon’s Thibodeaux and Sewell holding the torch.
Thursday night, 14 offensive and defensive linemen were drafted in the opening round — and none were from the Pac-12.
Gone are the days of Stanford’s mashers and USC’s maulers.
If the league wants to get back into the thick of it, it needs to thicken up a bit.
Focus on a more fruitful Friday
While it wasn’t exactly a banner Thursday for the Pac-12, there are several Day 2 prospects who could boost the league’s draft profile.
Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave, USC defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu, Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III, UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet and Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley are all candidates for the 2nd and 3rd rounds, and the Pac-12 has a handful of other fringe Friday prospects.